Tag Archives: Keyword Selection

Advanced SEO Keyword Selection

“The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

-Mark Twain

There’s an old adage in marketing that goes something like, “You don’t sell the bacon, you sell the sizzle.” The trouble is, that people looking for bacon aren’t googling “sizzle.” Most copywriting techniques were developed with the passive consumer in mind. The idea was to draw the attention & whet the appetite of a reader flipping through the pages of a magazine or newspaper.  With search, people are actively seeking particular information.

With a good chunk of traffic coming from search engines, having good copywriting alone doesn’t cut it anymore. This is why we have to take the time to research what words we will focus us.

Basically, you want your keywords to be relevant to your business, but don’t want a keyword to be too broad or too narrow.

•    Keywords that are too broad will be difficult to rank for or may result in a high bounce rate due to the site’s limited relevancy.

•    Keywords that are too narrow will not be searched for very often, and are unlikely to generate much traffic.

So, how do determine what the best keywords are for your campaign? Below, I have provided a sort of strategy guide to selecting the best keywords.

I.Assess the business

Learn industry terms and what the main focus of business is

Ask questions:
How you describe what type of business they are to a friend?
What separates them from other businesses in the same market?
What products or services do they specialize in?

Look at successful competitors:
What keywords do they seem to be focusing on?
What are they ranking high on?


II. Brainstorming

After the above steps, start compiling a list of possible keywords. Don’t constrain yourself to industry terms. Be creative. Put yourself in the shoes of a customer. Sometimes, commonly used industry terms are not terms used by consumers in the same market.

As a rule of thumb, we usually require that each keyphrase consist of two to three separate words. The keyphrase should also represent one thing and be able to be used easily in a sentence without sounding forced or unnatural. For example heating and air conditioning although a common term, represents two concepts that should count as two separate keywords. Blind schools charitable giving was given to me as a keyword once, but this is difficult to use in a sentence.  There are some exceptions, however. The phrase Obstetrician/gynecologist, although two separate terms, is used so often as a single concept in our language that it could be considered a single keyphrase.

Here are some other general tips when brainstorming keyword ideas:

Category/Type of Business:

Keywords that act as general descriptions of the type of business often work well.   Avoid using anything too specific or too technical that an average person wouldn’t use.  Categories from the local listing pages can also

be a good clue to help develop keywords.

Ex: Roofing Contractor, Pizza Delivery, Tree Service, Emergency Plumber


If it is a particular product that they sell, this keyword phrase is best if it is a noun or an adjective and a noun.

Ex:  Women’s Clothing, Ceramic Tile, Skin Care Products, Chinese Takeout


For a service keyword, this phrase is best if it is a noun and a verb or a noun and a verb in noun form (verb + -tion OR verb + -ment = verb in noun form)

Ex:  Roof Repair, Bathroom Remodeling, Furnace Installation, Tire Alignment

Geo Modifiers:

Concentrate on what product and services you offer, and to what geographical areas or regions. Try and think like a searcher and ask yourself the following questions…If I was looking for this product and I lived in this region, what geo modifier would I use to get the best results.
It is a best practice to use a geo that you serve and operate in.

Ex: Pizza delivery, San Francisco; AC repair, San Jose CA.

You can also use the AdWords tool or Google Instant feature to get more ideas for keywords.   The AdWords tool is especially useful since it shows how often people are actually searching for a keyphrase in Google.

Once logged into the AdWords tool, you can click on the “Tools and Analysis” tab and “Keyword Tool”


Here is what you will see:Image

For now, you can start by putting in individual keywords and clicking the search button. [NOTE: you can leave the geo-modification out during this process.] The results screen will show you the figures for that term, and underneath show a list of “keyword ideas”. Experiment with checking the box that reads “Only show ideas closely related to my search terms” to see what comes up.

On the right-hand side, you will see a button for columns. By default, this is set to “Global Monthly Searches”. This will show results for the entire planet. “Local” isn’t really local, but it does narrow the results to the United States (or another country if you select it).


You will also see that it is set to sort by relevance. You may want to change this to sort by Global (or Local) monthly searches to see what the most popular terms are.

If I type in air conditioning with the above settings, this is what I will see:


While you are doing this, check the boxes next to the keywords you like. After you go through the list, click “Download” and then “Selected”. Then pick “CSV for Excel”, and save it in that customer’s folder, repeat the process for any other keyword ideas you might have. You can combine all these spreadsheets into one list of keyword ideas.



Example of a Keyword List:

III. Refine Your List

Once you have a big list of keywords from your brainstorming session, you can start the process of refining your list. You may want to start by eliminating those with a very small number of Local Monthly Searches.  Use your insight and knowledge of the industry to scrap keywords that might be way too broad, too narrow, or that aren’t really part of your customer’s business.

Next, copy your refined list back into the AdWords tool.

Before you click search, make sure you look at “Match Type” on the left hand side. By default, it is set to “broad”. This shows the results for variations of the term, synonyms, related terms and more. It is good for brainstorming keyword ideas, but isn’t really useful when refining your search. So uncheck “broad” and check “exact” and “phrase” instead. “Exact” will show only the results for that term as it is written, with no other words entered into the query. While “phrase” shows the results for that term as it is written, including other words entered into the query. This relates well to SEO strategies, and how we track rankings.

If you look for air conditioning, heating and HVAC, you can see that the exact matches (in brackets) are quite different from the phrase matches (in quotes).  [Compare to broad matches as well to see how drastic the difference is].

This gives you a good idea of how often people are searching for your keyword ideas, but it doesn’t tell you how many sites are trying to rank for those same keywords. The more competition you have, the more difficult it will be to rank for a specific search term.

There are two simple ways to gain insight into keyword competition:

In the keyword tool, under the “columns” button on the right side, you can select competition. This will give you a figure, high, medium or low. If you export this to CSV, it will give you an actual ratio, with 1.0 being the highest.


Although this is convenient, the “competition” figure is actually based on how many advertisers are bidding for that keyword in AdWords. This relates to PPC (SEM), more so than SEO. Although there may be a rough correlation between competition for AdWords and organic competition in a SERP, we should take an extra step to see what the real competition landscape looks like.

This is as simple as going to Google, and searching for that keyword. Note the total results. If there are tens of millions or 100’s millions of results, that keyword may be too broad, and you may want a longer word or more descriptive one. [NOTE: in this case, you will want to use your location modifiers to see a real picture of the competition in a selected market].


Less than a million in Buffalo, NY isn’t too bad, so you might want to add “air conditioning” to your list of suggestions. While you’re at it, you might note any direct competitors in the top 10 or 20 results.
You may find they pop up for other related keywords as well. In some cases, you may find entirely different competitors ranking well for closely related keyphrases. You can also use this method try to determine the best location to add as a geo-modifier as well.  (e.g. Is  “Western New York” better for a business that serves Niagara Falls, Buffalo & the Southern Tier, but NOT Rochester?).

IV. Consult with the Customer

Once you have gone through the process of brainstorming and refining several times, you should be able to narrow your list of suggested keywords down to a a choice few. You may want to include a list of additional suggestions as well.  Now you can send the list of your suggestions to your customer. Be prepared to discuss why you suggested the keywords you chose and also be prepared to listen.

There are many nuances to each industry that you may not be aware of. For example, one customer of mine is a home builder. They have custom homes and home builder as keyphrases. However, custom home builder was unacceptable to them, since the term implied an architect designing every aspect of the house with the customer. Their system, by contrast, involved piecing together your “custom” house from a pre-set list of floor plans and options. Since SEO involves on-site copywriting, it is important not to misrepresent the services your customer provides by targeting the wrong keywords.

Other times, you may have a great set of keywords that describe the business in general, but the customer wants to focus on a specific service or product they offer. For example, one customer is an auto and truck accessory shop and repair center. There are dozens of keywords that could be used to describe that, but they wanted to focus on specific offerings, such as snow plows, upholstery, sunroofs and convertible tops. So you may have to go back through the whole process and look at best keywords related to those products.

So consulting with the customer and heeding their opinion is a critical part of the campaign. Sometimes they have suggestions that aren’t optimal. It’s your job to advise against keywords that might be too broad or too narrow.

The whole process of selecting the right keywords can be time consuming, with a lot of back and forth with the customer. After you have finalized your set of keywords with the customer, they still might come back and want to change them later for a variety of reasons. Picking the right keywords from the start will save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run.


- by Anand Perala

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